Wednesday, September 9, 2015

346. SHADOWS (1959)

Running Time: 87 minutes
Directed By: John Cassavetes
Written By: John Cassavetes
Main Cast: Ben Caruthers, Lelia Goldoni, Hugh Hurd, Anthony Ray, Dennis Sallas
Click here to view the trailer


Welcome to a week (or what will probably amount to closer to two) dedicated to the father of independent, American cinema - John Cassavetes. Of course, we're talking about John Cassavetes, who has four movies in THE BOOK, starting with his 1959 debut - Shadows.

The film is reminiscent of the French New Wave and THE BOOK even compares it to Breathless, something I'd call a spot on comparison. The movie takes place in New York and tells of three siblings: Hugh (Hurd), Ben (Carruthers) and Lelia (Goldoni). Actually, the film really revolves around Lelia and her courting of three different men, over the course of the film's running time. The first guy is a scholarly type, a bit older and a bit of a square. In fact, Lelia is stolen from the first guy, by the second guy, Tony (Ray). Lelia and Tony hit it off just fine and cap their night off with a bout of lovemaking, Lelia's first time. I guess I should take a minute to tell you that the siblings - Hugh, Lelia and Ben - are African American, but that Hugh is very dark skinned, while the other two are so light skinned that they're often mistaken as white. In fact, Tony himself even manages to mistake Lelia for a white girl, so that when her brother Hugh arrives at Lelia's home, unexpected, Tony's true colors shine through and thus, wants nothing else to do with Lelia. Lelia slips into a bit of a depression, shutting out the world. Her third suitor eventually comes along - an African American boy who is also a huge pushover. Meanwhile, Hugh tries to make it as a nightclub singer and Ben buddies around with his guy pals. It's Beat-Era New York City, folks.

How about we start with a story?

It was 2007 and during that summer, I moved out of my parents home, about twenty miles away to my very first apartment, with my very new wife. I've talked about this before on the blog - the two of us had a blast and I'll never forget those early days of roughing it on our own, cooking Hamburger Helpers and other cheap meals. Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked. T

That winter, I started to get very interested in film. I'd say this is when I officially turned up the notch on my movie addiction, form casual movie watcher to wannabe film buff. I started making notes of everything I watched and in January 2008, I actually started keeping a tablet, writing down everything I watched, along with the year and the director of each movie. Again - getting ahead of myself.

That Christmas of 2007, I was at Barnes & Noble bookstore - the only place to buy Criterion Collection films, that I know of - and my eyes caught a Cassavetes, Criterion Collection box set. Now, at this point, I had yet to see any John Cassavetes movies and probably didn't even realize that this was the same guy who played Rosemary's husband. For some reason, I had to have that box set. I just wanted it. Somehow I knew that the movie enclosed would all be superb and that it would be a blind buy worth going in blind on. However, the set was something like $150 bucks and being a newlywed with new bills like rent and car payment, I just couldn't bring myself to splurge. Eventually, I came to my senses, told myself that I'd watch the films first and that if I still wanted the box set, I'd save up and buy it.

Flash forward to today and my DVD collection isn't the pride & joy it once was. With things like Netlflix and OnDemand, the necessity to have a DVD collection is becoming less and less. As for my infatuation with the unknown work of John Cassavetes? Well, I never did see any of his movies - that is, until yesterday and my first ever viewing of a Cassavetes picture, Shadows.

All I can say is, so far, I'm glad I didn't splurge on the box set.

Nah, I just didn't care for it THAT MUCH and while it was ahead of it's time, it was no more crucial to the advancement of motion pictures that Godard's contributions to the French New Wave, namely Breathless, which is just as ahead of it's time and better, to boot. I didn't hate Shadows or anything, as it was a decent, little picture. However, "little" is the key word there, casting amateur actors who seem to be improving their lines (and not particularly well) and a very amateurish feel to the whole affair, complete with grainy, ugly black & white. I get it. It's an independent feature, it's supposed to be amateurish, it's supposed to be grainy, but that's just a hint of what also happened to turn me off.

I don't want to get into a whole question of race or anything here, but yours truly has never encountered a black person who was so light skinned, I mistook them for a white person. Maybe there are black people who are THAT light, but I've never encountered it personally. So, when Hugh walked in on Lelia and Tony and everyone started flipping out, I had to reach for the pause button and ask my wife for a little clarification. Up to that point, I thought Lelia & Hugh and Hugh & Ben were just calling each other "brother" and "sister" playfully, meaning they were good friends who thought of each other as siblings. II never crossed my mind that Lelia and Ben were his actual siblings. I was definitely confused by the whole thing and wondered why Cassavetes didn't just cast light skinned, black actors. Because Carruthers and Goldoni were actually white, right?

I realize that we're talking about 1959 here, when race relations was a very taboo and sensitive subject and it's not something you really spoke about openly and freely, especially within the medium of motion picture. However, it's not 2015 and recent events in Ferguson and Baltimore, among other places, make me want to hear less and less about racial tensions, even if it is coming from a time capsule movie from over fifty years ago. I find it absolutely ridiculous that in 2015 there are still racists and that's one of the hundreds of problems that when I turn on a movie, I want that movie to help me forget about. Okay, so maybe I'm being a little over dramatic in blaming Shadows' racial topics on my dislike for the film. Most of it, I think, was just pure disappointment. I mean we're talking about a filmmaker that I've been waiting to sink my teeth into for nearly a decade and his first picture out of the gate was a less than impressive feat. I'll be approaching his next film with caution, in high hopes that by the time I've watched all four, I have a contender for new favorite movie.

RATING: 5/10  Let's just call it average and call it a day, shall we? I could see this one growing on me with multiple viewings, but as a first go around, it was perfectly average.


September 9, 2015  11:33pm

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